The Mumbai Police Crime Branch on Saturday informed the Metropolitan Magistrate Court that owners and other officials of the Republic Media Network, News Nation and Mahamovie have been named as accused in the alleged manipulation of television ratings, the Hindustan Times reported. The names of these persons who are wanted in the case were not disclosed.

The Mumbai Police, based on a complaint filed by an agency contracted by Broadcast Audience Research Council, is investigating allegations of rigging of Television Rating Points, or TRP ratings. Republic TV, Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi were those named during preliminary investigation.

This is the first time that News Nation and Mahamovie channels have been formally named in the case. The matter came to light when the Mumbai Police Crime Branch, in their remand plea seeking extension of custody of two persons arrested in the case, told the court that owners of the TV channels have been named as accused.

When asked who the owners of the three channels were, Milind Bharambe, joint commissioner of police (crime) said, “We have not named anyone specific yet.”

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The police also claimed to have learned that a person identified as Abhishek Kalawade and his accomplices had allegedly accepted money from Republic TV, News Nation and Mahamovie channels, according to The Indian Express.

“They had further distributed the money to the people who are amongst the 1,800 panel homes, so that they watch their channels for maximum time which will help them in increasing their TRP ratings,” an unidentified investigator told the newspaper. “We could establish a link between the arrested accused, witnesses and wanted accused after scrutinising their bank statements.”

Kalawade is wanted in the case. Besides him, one Rocky is also named as a “wanted accused”, the police told the court.

The police have arrested nine persons in connection with the scam so far. Two of them, Ramji Verma and Dinesh Vishwakarma – both former employees of Hansa Research Group – were again produced in court on Saturday. They were remanded in police custody for two days.

The police have also arrested the owners of Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi, Shirish Shetty and Narayan Sharma.

Meanwhile, Republic TV’s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami skipped another hearing regarding the TRP case on Saturday. Goswami’s lawyer attended the hearing on his behalf and requested that he be exempted from physically appearing for the proceedings. The police accepted the request and scheduled the next hearing on November 7.

The TRP scam

A fake TRP racket was uncovered earlier in October when the Broadcast Audience Research Council filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group, alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers. The channels were accused of rigging their TRPs by bribing some households to watch it, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh had said at a press conference on October 8.

BARC uses uses BAR-O-Meters, or “people’s metres” that have been installed in over 45,000 households for tracking TRPs. The empanelled households are classified into 12 categories, covering over 80 crore people. The members of these households are given separate viewer IDs, which they are required to put on while watching television. This helps BARC to monitor which channels they watch and the duration for the same.

Hansa is a firm contracted by BARC to install these audience measurement meters.

On October 14, Republic TV’s Executive Editor Niranjan Narayanaswamy and Senior Executive Editor Abhishek Kapoor appeared before the crime branch of the Mumbai Police to record their statements in the case.

Republic TV Chief Executive Officer Vikas Khanchandani had appeared before the Mumbai police for questioning in case on October 11. The TV channel’s Chief Financial Officer Shiva Subramaniam Sundaram was supposed to appear before the police on the previous day, but he asked for a reschedule citing “personal commitments”.

Republic TV has repeatedly claimed that the summons to its top editors in the TRP scam were part of a “desperate witch hunt” . They have also accused the police of pursuing an agenda against free press.

The channel moved the Supreme Court against the city police’s summons to its top editors and executives, in connection with their investigation. The top court, however, on October 15 had refused to entertain the plea.

On October 19, the channel said that it will sue Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh for Rs 200 crore for allegedly damaging its reputation.

The Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday filed a case to investigate allegations of manipulation of Television Rating Points scam by Republic TV, Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi.